Which headlining NFL players could be dealt in the coming months?
The league’s trade season has unofficially commenced, with some big-name quarterbacks relocating. And there’s a buzz that this could only be the beginning. A feeling that this particular offseason — with the salary cap set to drop due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on 2020 revenue — could be rife with player movement. We can feel that energy building in the walk-up to the 2021 NFL Draft, with widespread speculation that huge A-listers could be on the move.
Normally at this time of year, I would publish a list of the most untradeable players in the NFL. Which seems frivolous in today’s climate. When I was a youngster, I scoffed when Ted DiBiase said that “every man has a price.” But The Million Dollar Man was right! We’ve seen this across sports of late. And in the NFL, truly untradeable players are the rarest of rare breeds. We’re talkin’ about guys like The Half A Billion Dollar Man, Patrick Mahomes. And Mr. Unlimited himself, Russell Wilson. (Yes, Russ seems to think he can be traded. No, he can’t.)
Deshaun Watson wants to be traded, but I think that would be a foolish undertaking by Houston. Which is tough for me to say, because every single Bears fan (including me) wants to see him in Chicago. But the Texans have tried for nearly the entirety of their existence to solve the quarterback issue. (Offering David Carr a smidgen of protection might’ve helped, but I digress.) I can’t see them moving on from Watson, no matter what the Bears are offering. Maybe if the Jets were to throw in the second overall pick in a MEGA package, we could see something go down. I don’t see it, though.
I’d also put Aaron Donald on this list, because we likely all agree the Rams would have beaten Green Bay in the Divisional Round if he’d been healthy. He is perhaps the only non-quarterback — along with Tristan Wirfs and Devin White — who can’t be moved. And maybe George Kittle. The Bosa brothers. Fine, there are some untradeable players in the league right now. But still, in this here file, I’d like to flip the script.
Let’s identify five big names who should be moved this offseason. And let’s get juicy right off the jump …
McCaffrey was one of my “untradeable” players from just a year ago, but it’s not crazy to think the Panthers could move on from him this offseason. Now, it should be noted the injuries from 2020 would likely make his trade value the lowest of his NFL career. However, he’s only going to turn 25 in June, so he’s still in the prime of his career and would be a valuable commodity. Which makes you think Carolina should hold on to him. But the Panthers aren’t close to the Super Bowl. And if they draft a quarterback to essentially turn the page on Teddy Bridgewater (seems quite feasible), the Panthers take a further step back from the Super Bowl. Especially in the short-term.
Why not restock the roster (and they did a great job of this last year) by sending McCaffrey to Seattle? At first blush, this seems like a fun option. It’d make Russell Wilson a whole lot happier, while keeping the Seahawks competitive with the Buccaneers and Packers, the two top teams in the conference. But the ‘Hawks already dealt their next two first-round picks to the Jets for Jamal Adams. What about CMC to Buffalo? That’d not only give the Bills a much-needed rushing attack, but another stellar pass catcher for Josh Allen. In fact, let’s do that instead. Probably gonna need to happen after June 1, to alleviate some dead-cap pain.
It seems like a big-name receiver gets dealt every summer. Like the release of another Fast & Furious movie. You just kind of get desensitized to it all. And if I’m talking about Jones, I should also point out that Matt Ryan feels like a candidate to be traded, as well, if Arthur Smith wants to develop his own quarterback. Yes, the contract looks prohibitive at first blush, but stranger things have happened. It’d probably have to be a post-June 1 trade, for dead-cap reasons. Send him to Pittsburgh if you must. Anyway, back to the subject at hand. Moving Jones makes a lot of sense, with the emergence of Calvin Ridley this past season. Ridley had 100-plus receiving yards in five of seven games without Julio, so he’s ready to go. And that’s the thing. Julio just turned 32. He played just nine games last season due to injury. Let him try to get in one last run for a championship on a team that’s kind of close.
The Las Vegas Raiders would be fun, even though Julio can’t play defensive back. Baltimore would also be a nice option. The Ravens need a receiver like a party-goer needs a Burger King drive-thru at the end of the night.
Let’s stick with another NFC South receiver, because it might be time for the Saints to move on from @CantGuardMike. The NFL’s top receiver in 2019, Thomas had the worst season of his career in 2020. But the Saints still ended up making the playoffs. And this isn’t a Taysom Hill problem, either. Thomas had at least 84 receiving yards in three of Hill’s four starts. And I feel like Thomas, who’s on the verge of his 28th birthday, still has a lot of juice. But the Saints are in salary cap hell, and while moving Thomas doesn’t solve all of their problems, the team needs a reboot of sorts. Like with Julio in Atlanta, this would almost certainly have to be a post-June 1 trade, given the dead-cap ramifications. Let’s be honest, though: At times recently, Thomas and the Saints have behaved like a passive-aggressive couple silently fighting through brunch and making like hell for everyone at the table. It’s not hard to imagine a divorce.
The ideal spot for Thomas would be Jacksonville, where he could be reunited with his college coach, Urban Meyer. As I said just above, it only really makes financial sense for a Thomas trade to take place after the coming draft, so the Jaguars could deal their 2022 first-round pick. Or the Jets could be in play for Thomas. Especially if Gang Green drafts a quarterback at No. 2 this April. In 2022, the Jets have their first-round and Seattle’s, thanks to the Jamal Adams trade. Oh, and they could include Sam Darnold, if Sean Payton has any interest in developing him.
Sorry, this has read like a fantasy football column up to this point — need to mix in a defensive player! And Gilmore is it. The hallmark of Bill Belichick’s Patriots has been the desire to move on from players one year too early rather than one year too late. And every year, it seemed like this would be the move that was going to doom the franchise. But it didn’t. For two decades. Of course, we should recognize that having Tom Brady as the constant made it possible to pull the trigger on such moves. And the year Brady left, the Patriots went 7-9, while their former quarterback won another Super Bowl in Tampa Bay. But I will also remind you that New England was stung the hardest by players who opted out of the 2020 season. Any consistency at quarterback likely would have meant another trip to the playoffs. So the team isn’t that far off. But it might be time to move on from the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year.
If I’m the Green Bay Packers, I absolutely make a play for Gilmore. Especially with Kevin King (mercifully) hitting free agency. The Packers have been reluctant to make big moves — well, besides attempting to alienate their future Hall of Fame quarterback by using a first-round pick on his replacement — but this is one I would make. I mean, I don’t want them to, as a Bears fan. But it would be a smart football move.
Speaking of the Bears … It seems more and more likely Brown — who doesn’t want to go back to manning the right side — is going to be moved this offseason. And while most of the focus for a team like Chicago is looking for an improvement at quarterback, fixing the offensive line is just as big an issue.
If the Bears could make a deal to get Brown and put him at left tackle, that solves so many issues for the team. Not the quarterback position. But the guy coming in to play QB (Marcus Mariota? Gardner Minshew?) will have a better chance to succeed. Honestly, though, at age 24 with two Pro Bowl bids to his name, Brown is one of those guys that everybody in the league should be kicking the tires on.